Publisher: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division
Capitol of Virginia
Victorious Union soldiers stand next to the columns of the Capitol of Virginia after Confederate forces fled Richmond in April 1865. The neoclassical structure, completed in 1788, was designed by Thomas Jefferson with the assistance of Charles-Louis Clérisseau and based on a Roman temple, the Maison Carrée at Nîmes in southern France. Jefferson wrote to fellow Virginian James Madison, "We took for our model … one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful and precious morsel of architecture left us by antiquity."
The Capitol in Richmond served as the center of political power and civic ceremonies for both Virginia and the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. On April 8, 1861, the delegates to the Virginia Convention relocated to the State Capitol from the cramped quarters of the Mechanics Institute after the legislature adjourned. Later that month, Robert E. Lee accepted command of Virginia's military and naval forces there. The building was the meeting place for wartime sessions of the General Assembly and the Confederate Congress. President Jefferson Davis was inaugurated on Capitol Square in February 1862 and Governor William "Extra Billy" Smith was inaugurated inside the Capitol in January 1864. Political speeches, military drills, band concerts, and public assemblies for celebration and protest occurred on the Capitol grounds throughout the war. Union forces who took the city in the wake of the Confederate retreat used the Capitol as a headquarters in the early phase of the military occupation.